I lived in Pittsburgh from 2003 until early last year, during which I made a bunch of shorts of varying quality, ahighly-regarded feature, and organized a failed screening series. I’d estimate that over the course of that time, I probably contacted the Pittsburgh Film Office 10 times about various issues like permits, cast calls, crew calls, etc. The sort of basic stuff that all filmmakers do.
I was once able to talk to a person. No one ever returned a phone call. My experience with them was not unique.
And keep in mind that this was prior to the city’s recent run of getting Hollywood films to show up in town. For most of the time I lived there, nothing big was happening. Nothing was happening at all.
Talk to any theater actor in the city worth a damn and they’ll all tell you that if a production has a chance to bring in an actor from Chicago or New York City, that actor will get the part every time. Sure, they’ll audition local talent, but they’ll never be considered. They want to be able to say they have out of town talent, even though most of those actors they bring in are terrible (trust me, I’ve sat through a lot of these plays). You wouldn’t cast these people to be the waiter with no lines in a micro-budget film. And you certainly don’t want them as the lead in your play.
Basically, the city of Pittsburgh is like a lot of smaller cities in that there’s an inferiority complex at play. The idea is that since they aren’t New York or Chicago they can’t have nice things. Or something. But whereas a city like Austin or Charlotte has built a vibrant film community, Pittsburgh has not. There’s a lot of theories as to why (geography is one of them), but Pittsburgh is not a city all that interested in developing its own talent. It’s much more interested in bringing in Russell Crowe for a few weeks to make a movie that pretty much everyone agrees will be terrible.
Thing is, there’s a lot of very good, very talented people in Pittsburgh doing some fantastic work. The Film Office should be focused on seeing if it has the next Chris Nolan, or should at least put forth a little bit of effort toward making their life easier. But they won’t. They’ll continue to chase Batman movies that’ll be fun for a little bit. Lots of people will get to be extras. And then in a couple of years, when another city out-schmoozes them for a bunch of superhero nonsense, there will be nothing left and another generation of talent will have given up and moved elsewhere.
It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of potential there. But they don’t need Batman. They need a swift kick in the ass.
Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.